Whisperings from the Outside

a blog on traditional Sicilian Cunning Craft and folk religion

Anonymous asked: What you're doing here is amazing. My heart aches at your dedication to your family and your people. I am so happy to have found your blog. I really am amazed.

Grazie mille!! Your words are very kind and are the reason I do what I do :)

something-frau-main asked: I can't even tell you how glad I am this blog exists. Instant follow from a girl with a Sicilian family (but no knowledge of Sicilian cunning practices!)

Well I can’t tell you how excited I am that you enjoy the Whisperings! Pisano, if you have any questions feel free to ask.
S’abbinirica!

Evviva di San Giuseppe! 

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph and arguably the most important feast day of a saint throughout the island of Sicily, simply because he is the only saint whose feast is universally honored throughout the whole island. Why is that? 

Sometime during the medieval era a famine struck the island of Sicily, killing all of the crops and leaving the populace impoverished. As the story goes, the people of Sicily were directed to make petitions for the aid of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus, for an end to the famine. It didn’t take long after that for the first crop to sprout and the people, seeing their prayers answered, rejoiced. Every year since then, on March 19, the people of Sicily remember and celebrate the glorious intercession of San Giuseppe that saved their island and their lives. St. Joseph Altars are erected in homes, special meals and baked goods are prepared and the homeless and hungry are invited in to feast on the wonderful bounty provided them by this glorious saint. 

In keeping with the traditional observance of Lent, meat was never offered on the altars of St. Joseph, only fish, breads and pastries. Fava beans are also traditionally distributed and carried for the following year as a symbol of abundance and prosperity- afterall, it was the fava plant that saved the island of Sicily so many years ago. 
In America St. Joseph’s Day has also become a day of Italian pride, similar in many ways to the Irish American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Italian Americans will traditionally wear red on this day and display images of their ethnicity such as flags. However, Italians who celebrate the feast day still remember and respect the religiosity behind it and don’t give themselves away to over indugences. 

Today is truely a feast of ethnic spirituality and national pride for the Sicilian/ Italian community.  

Buona Festa a tutti!!

Evviva di San Giuseppe!

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph and arguably the most important feast day of a saint throughout the island of Sicily, simply because he is the only saint whose feast is universally honored throughout the whole island. Why is that?

Sometime during the medieval era a famine struck the island of Sicily, killing all of the crops and leaving the populace impoverished. As the story goes, the people of Sicily were directed to make petitions for the aid of Saint Joseph, the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus, for an end to the famine. It didn’t take long after that for the first crop to sprout and the people, seeing their prayers answered, rejoiced. Every year since then, on March 19, the people of Sicily remember and celebrate the glorious intercession of San Giuseppe that saved their island and their lives. St. Joseph Altars are erected in homes, special meals and baked goods are prepared and the homeless and hungry are invited in to feast on the wonderful bounty provided them by this glorious saint.

In keeping with the traditional observance of Lent, meat was never offered on the altars of St. Joseph, only fish, breads and pastries. Fava beans are also traditionally distributed and carried for the following year as a symbol of abundance and prosperity- afterall, it was the fava plant that saved the island of Sicily so many years ago.
In America St. Joseph’s Day has also become a day of Italian pride, similar in many ways to the Irish American celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Italian Americans will traditionally wear red on this day and display images of their ethnicity such as flags. However, Italians who celebrate the feast day still remember and respect the religiosity behind it and don’t give themselves away to over indugences.

Today is truely a feast of ethnic spirituality and national pride for the Sicilian/ Italian community.

Buona Festa a tutti!!

Divination Within the Sicilian Tradition

Over the centuries the maghi of Sicily have developed a wide range of techniques for learning the will of God, sometimes its through observing and reading the various omens that come about throughout the day, but many times its through actual contact with the Divine through “hands on” means. In this article I will cover two of the more popular methods of divination that have developed over time on this ancient isle.

The first method I will discuss is the reading of cards, or cartomancy. Within the country of Italy each region has developed their own style of playing cards, commonly called a “Scopa deck”, named after a popular card game. The suits, though vary from north to south, may reflect that of the common Tarot decks that many western occultists are familiar with, they are: Coins (Denari), Clubs (Bastoni), Swords (Spade), and Cups (Coppe) and number 40 cards total in the deck. Each suit counts from ace to seven and includes a knave (fante), knight (cavallo) and king (re), and when used to divine have their own unique meaning. Common spreads include: an upward horseshoe layout, a common nine card spread or a more complicated layout known as a Gypsy spread- mostly likely taught to the Sicilian maghi through the cultural assimilation of Sicilian Gypsies. Though I have only covered the use of the “Scopa deck” within Sicilian cartomancy, it is not uncommon for certain Sicilian cunning folk to utilize an assortment of Holy Cards for divination purposes as well.

The next technique I will cover is the use of Favomancy, that is, divining with beans. Throughout Sicilian culture one may find a particular amount of lore surrounding one common type of bean; the Fava bean. Known to bring luck to anyone who carries one with him, it is often said that anyone who carries the fava will never go without the common necessities of life. They are used as symbols of abundance and offerings to ancestors and saints alike- fava beans can often be seen adorning St. Joseph’s Tables and also collected by devotees for luck throughout the following year. Traditionally fava beans are planted on November 2, the Feast of All Souls and thus are considered suitable offerings to the dead. But how does one divine with them? Well, it isn’t all that different from reading tea leaves. After collecting a suitable amount of beans the maghi prays over them, keeping a particular question in their mind, after a while the beans are cast and the practioner begins to read them, looking for shapes and patterns that stand out and may provide insight to the current situation. This technique often takes years to perfect and each practioner usually has his or her own interpretation to the various shapes, but nevertheless the use of fava as tools of divination are as old as the countryside herself.
Though I have only covered two of the more common divination techniques rest assured that there are many other methods used and as all practices found within the Sicilian Cunning tradition, they are as diverse as the families who practice them.

I apologize for my recent hiatus from this blog, I hope to be writing more in the future. I wish you all a blessed St. Joseph’s Day and don’t forget to wear something red and to feed the poor.

S’abbinirica!

twinkprivilege asked: So happy to see a blog dedicated to Sicilian magical traditions! Xo

Thank you, I appriciate your support :)

A collection of Corni- the most iconic symbol of our folk religion

griezzellgreedigut asked: do you have any other resources further explaining italian folk sigils and the meanings of each one?

Each sigil will generally fall into one of three categories: astrological, religious, and natural. Those that are astrological consist of planetary symbols. Any religious sigils will be those familiar to the eye of any well educated Catholic and will maintain the same meanings as found in Catholicism. Finally, the natural symbols are those of the ancient earth based Italic religions, for many the meanings behind these symbols have been lost to antiquity, but there are those of us who have been taught and can still explain them, unfortunatly none have written on them to my knowledge. The important thing to know however is the intent behind which all these are traditionally utilized, and that is for protection (from the evil eye, witchcraft, disease, bad spirits, etc.).
I do have a book of my own slowly in progress, on traditional cunning craft from the Mezzogiorno, it’s a practitioner’s guide as opposed to an anthropological study, so it will be including how to use, and what each sigil means. However I’m willing to explain a specific sigil should you be having trouble indentifying it yourself.
The Italian paths are always those belonging to families and usually kept secret, because of this its always going to be difficult to find written information, sorry, but I hope this helps.

Defining a Tradition...

siciliancunningcraft:

Well, I think it’s time to address a debate that has been raging within the Italian magical community, that is: What definition best describes the Authentic Magical Tradition of Southern Italy and Sicily?

Now you may have heard the terms Stregheria, Stregoneria, and Benedicaria

Thank you! There are plans in the works for a book in the not too distant future.

Defining a Tradition…

Well, I think it’s time to address a debate that has been raging within the Italian magical community, that is: What term best describes the Authentic Magical Tradition of Southern Italy and Sicily?

Now you may have heard the terms Stregheria, Stregoneria, and Benedicaria used before and each given their respective definitions, such as:

Benedicaria- The Folk Catholicism practiced throughout Southern Italy and Sicily. In it’s purest of forms it is in perfect accordance with Catholic Doctrine as it’s adherents are devout Catholics.

Stregoneria-  A collective term to describe all the Folk Magic practices of Italy, devoid of a particular religious creed.

Stregheria- A religious practice of witchcraft with roots in Italy. Its practices are void of Catholic influence and claims to have survived the Christianization of Italy by going underground.

I am to tell you that these definitions are historically inaccurate and have only gained truth in the last decade through various authors and their followers.

I’ll start with Stregheria. This is an archaic term meaning “witchcraft” that was revived by the Italian-American author Raven Grimassi to describe a neo-pagan religion that he had written about in his book Ways of the Strega. Grimassi has made himself clear many times that the practices he describes in the aforementioned book and in his more recent tome Italian Witchcraft are of his own creation and not an authentic reproduction of what he claims to have been taught through “family tradition”, because of this disclaimer I won’t spend too much time on him. However before I leave Grimassi completely I will note my personal opinion on his work (afterall this is my blog). Although Grimassi saved himself from further critique in the inaccurate use of the term Stregheria,  his frequent attacks on practitioners of authentic Italian magic may prompt one to question the authenticity of what it is that he practices “behind-closed-doors”, that is: if what you have written about lacks any tradition to it, then what is it that you practice in private, because you seem unfamiliar with any authentic form of Italian magic? 

Anyway back to Stregheria, other famous practitioners include the late Italian-American author and pagan activist, Dr. Leo Louis Martello and Italian-American shop owner and Salem resident, Lori Bruno. While I am familiar with the works of both, and in all truthfulness I have no ill feelings toward either, I cannot support their claims, you see the problem is this: They claim to be descended from an unbroken line of Sicilian witches that have been completely and unwaveringly devoted to a pre-Christian goddess and god from the times before Christianity and up to the modern era. While I have no problem with the claim that our practices have pagan origins to them, there is no historical truth to the idea of a secret pagan cult surviving in Sicily or mainland Italy up until the modern day, and a number of anthropologists have verified this fact (search the works of Sabina Magliocco for more reading on the subject). Like it or not Italy, and by extension Sicily, is an Catholic country and has housed the Roman Pontiff for the full 2,000 year history of the Roman Catholic Church, to divorce Catholicism from Italian tradition and culture is to essentially loose the culture all together. So while I have no doubts that the Italian-American practitioners of Stregheria, that I have mentioned above have grown up around the folk magic traditions of Italy, they themselves have rejected the Catholic element in their spirituality and replaced it with elements of the modern Wiccan religion and this can be clearly seen in the workings that they do and thus rendering their traditions inauthentic.

On to stregoneria, a term popularized within the English speaking world by the, now defunct, website Stregoneria Italiana, to describe the collective folk magic practices of the Italian people. In the modern Italian tongue the word stregoneria means simply witchcraft with no specifically “Italian” insinuation. The problem with utilizing this terminology to describe the “low magic” practices of the Italian countryside is that no authentic practitioner of these arts would claim that what they were doing was witchcraft, nor would they identify as a witch, or strega. So how can we popularize a term for something that the practitioners themselves would be insulted by? The answer is: we don’t. The struggle comes with the diaspora of the Italian people from our homeland into the lands of other immigrants. Back in the proper context our medicinal and magical knowledge was praised by the community and we, as healers, were needed (for further information read my post on the role of a Sicilian cunning person) however in these new lands, namely America and Canada, our traditions were shunned by the Irish Catholic values that began to creep their way into our communities and families. Italians have a saying that in Italy even the sacred and the profane are seamlessly blended, meaning Catholic faith and our pagan practices, however not in America, where the predominant ethnicity of the Catholic Church was the Irish Americans who often regarded us as heathens and idolaters and barred us from their churches. Shunned from practicing our faith our spirituality began to suffer and thus led to the slow decay of our folk traditions in the New World. However this modern generation has experienced an increased interest in the ways of their ancestors and the 3rd and 4th generation Italian-American community is looking more and more into learning the “superstitions” and folk magic practices of their forebears, mostly as a way to try and recapture not only their heritage but also an alternative spirituality when so many feel ostracized by the Catholic Church. Now, when looking for fraternity, we turn to the neopagan community, fearing the same judgmental response that our ancestors faced should we try and assimilate our renewed knowledge of folk magic with the Christian faith- this is the birth of the neo-pagan Stregheria movement as well as a the foundation of the new, “capitalized” term, Stregoneria, a desperate attempt to fit in with a magical community that is often hostile to Christian beliefs, while at the same time attempting to give us credibility as a Traditional system of magic while maintaining Catholic beliefs. Unfortunately, being a traditionalist myself, the historical inaccuracy of using this term keeps me from utilizing it any further and so the search continues for an authentic term for a tradition that historically lacks one, which leads me to our last term Benedicaria.

This final term is quite possibly the most accurate term when describing the magical traditions of Italy, as well as the most misunderstood. Benedicaria, a term which owes its presence in the mainstream English-speaking world to the independent author, Vito Quattrocchi, has quite possibly suffered mostly from him. Now make no mistake for I have the utmost respect for Mr. Quattrocchi and his work to immortalize the customs and traditions of his family with his writings and I have no doubt that, although some improvisations and modern additions can be seen throughout his work, his tome Sicilian Benedicaria: Magical Catholicism seems to have an authentic basis. However, with Quattrocchi’s book being the only English text on the subject to use the term Benedicaria, nee the short lived printing of a book written by Fr. Agostino Taumaturgo, the term suffers from the one sided and “overly Catholic” practice that Quatrrocchi has described in his 183 page text. The practices recorded by Quattrocchi lack any metaphysical explanation while disregarding the spirituality and beliefs of the practitioners behind them, his work is seemingly inhabiting a sort of Limbo between devout Catholic prayers and true folk religion. So although Quarttocchi did not create the term Benedicaria, his influence has done much to diminish its full potential, Benedicaria is not “magical Catholicism”, it is the magical traditions and practices of the Mezzogiorno that happen to work within a Catholic worldview. Benedicaria is a term developed in the Sicilian countryside and by its practitioners, and with its meaning “the way of blessing” it remains open-ended to the diverse individual practices of families while remaining true to the purpose of our arts. So while poorly represented within the context of the English speaking world, the term Benedicaria is the best term in which to describe the Authentic Magical Practices of Southern Italy and Sicily.

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